A Look To The Future: Retailers Find Technology Indispensable, Presenting A New Set Of Challenges

The U.S. retail industry is several years ahead of the vending industry in using automation. Retailers have automated nearly every aspect of their operations, from managing their inventory, analyzing their sales, preventing internal and external loss, managing employee productivity, gaining customer feedback, etc.So I found it interesting to learn what U.S. retailers think of how well their technology is helping them deal with the worst retail economy since the Great Depression.A recent survey by Integrated Solutions for Retailers, a trade journal, indicates retailers rely very heavily on their technology, yet realize that technology alone cannot pull them out of the recession.Most retailers reported they have invested in technologies that will help them succeed. But despite this, most do not believe they are rebounding from the recession.One of the more interesting findings was that when asked what marketing and operations solutions they plan to invest in next year, the clear winner is marketing and promotions (51.7 percent), followed by merchandising (35.9 percent), customer experience management (29.9 percent), sustainability initiatives (23.6 percent), worker management (21.3 percent), time and attendance (17.6 percent), HR (15.3 percent), and store execution (10.1 percent).When retailers have to reduce expenditures, the study noted that advertising and marketing are the first places to go. But the impact of these cutbacks were resounding themes among survey respondents.Armed with a lot of data, retailers can measure what the impact of investing in any area of their business has on their results. But it does not allow them to predict the future. Human judgment comes into play. Tough choices have to be made.Brick and mortar retailers operate on much smaller profit margins than vending operators, and they dont have the benefit of captive customer audiences.Vending operators are just beginning to invest in technology. Those who have made the investments are experiencing significant efficiency improvements.In the coming years, vending operators will find they need technology just as much as brick and mortar retailers. It will not solve all their problems. They will encounter a different set of challenges.

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